Maid Marian, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XII

A single volume paramount: a code:

A master spirit: a determined road.

Wordsworth.

The next morning Robin Hood convened his foresters, and desired Little John, for the baron’s edification, to read over the laws of their forest society. Little John read aloud with a stentorophonic voice.

“At a high court of foresters, held under the greenwood tree, an hour after sun-rise, Robin Hood President, William Scarlet Vice–President, Little John Secretary: the following articles, moved by Friar Tuck in his capacity of Peer Spiritual, and seconded by Much the Miller, were unanimously agreed to.

“The principles of our society are six: Legitimacy, Equity, Hospitality, Chivalry, Chastity, and Courtesy.

“The articles of Legitimacy are four:

“I. Our government is legitimate, and our society is founded on the one golden rule of right, consecrated by the universal consent of mankind, and by the practice of all ages, individuals, and nations: namely, To keep what we have, and to catch what we can.

“II. Our government being legitimate, all our proceedings shall be legitimate: wherefore we declare war against the whole world, and every forester is by this legitimate declaration legitimately invested with a roving commission, to make lawful prize of every thing that comes in his way.

“III. All forest laws but our own we declare to be null and void.

“IV. All such of the old laws of England as do not in any way interfere with, or militate against, the views of this honourable assembly, we will loyally adhere to and maintain. The rest we declare null and void as far as relates to ourselves, in all cases wherein a vigour beyond the law may be conducive to our own interest and preservation.”

“The articles of Equity are three:

“I. The balance of power among the people being very much deranged, by one having too much and another nothing, we hereby resolve ourselves into a congress or court of equity, to restore as far as in us lies the said natural balance of power, by taking from all who have too much as much of the said too much as we can lay our hands on; and giving to those who have nothing such a portion thereof as it may seem to us expedient to part with.

“II. In all cases a quorum of foresters shall constitute a court of equity, and as many as may be strong enough to manage the matter in hand shall constitute a quorum.

“III. All usurers, monks, courtiers, and other drones of the great hive of society, who shall be found laden with any portion of the honey whereof they have wrongfully despoiled the industrious bee, shall be rightfully despoiled thereof in turn; and all bishops and abbots shall be bound and beaten, 5 especially the abbot of Doncaster; as shall also all sheriffs, especially the sheriff of Nottingham.

5

“These byshoppes and these archbyshoppes

Ye shall them bete and bynde,”

says Robin Hood, in an old ballad. Perhaps, however, thus is to be taken not in a literal, but in a figurative sense from the binding and beating of wheat: for as all rich men were Robin’s harvest, the bishops and archbishops must have been the finest and fattest ears among them, from which Robin merely proposes to thresh the grain when he directs them to be bound and beaten: and as Pharaoh’s fat kine were typical of fat ears of wheat, so may fat ears of wheat, mutatis mutandis, be typical of fat kine.

“The articles of Hospitality are two:

“I. Postmen, carriers and market-folk, peasants and mechanics, farmers and millers, shall pass through our forest dominions without let or molestation.

“II. All other travellers through the forest shall be graciously invited to partake of Robin’s hospitality; and if they come not willingly they shall be compelled; and the rich man shall pay well for his fare; and the poor man shall feast scot free, and peradventure receive bounty in proportion to his desert and necessity.

“The article of Chivalry is one:

“I. Every forester shall, to the extent of his power, aid and protect maids, widows, and orphans, and all weak and distressed persons whomsoever: and no woman shall be impeded or molested in any way; nor shall any company receive harm which any woman is in.

“The article of Chastity is one:

“I. Every forester, being Diana’s forester and minion of the moon, shall commend himself to the grace of the Virgin, and shall have the gift of continency on pain of expulsion: that the article of chivalry may be secure from infringement, and maids, wives, and widows pass without fear through the forest.

“The article of Courtesy is one:

“I. No one shall miscall a forester. He who calls Robin Robert of Huntingdon, or salutes him by any other title or designation whatsoever except plain Robin Hood; or who calls Marian Matilda Fitzwater, or salutes her by any other title or designation whatsoever except plain Maid Marian; and so of all others; shall for every such offence forfeit a mark, to be paid to the friar.

“And these articles we swear to keep as we are good men and true. Carried by acclamation. God save King Richard.

“LITTLE JOHN, Secretary.”

“Excellent laws,” said the baron: “excellent, by the holy rood. William of Normandy, with my great great grandfather Fierabras at his elbow, could not have made better. And now, sweet Mawd ——”

“A fine, a fine,” cried the friar, “a fine, by the article of courtesy.”

“Od’s life,” said the baron, “shall I not call my own daughter Mawd? Methinks there should be a special exception in my favour.”

“It must not be,” said Robin Hood: “our constitution admits no privilege.”

“But I will commute,” said the friar; “for twenty marks a year duly paid into my ghostly pocket you shall call your daughter Mawd two hundred times a day.”

“Gramercy,” said the baron, “and I agree, honest friar, when I can get twenty marks to pay: for till Prince John be beaten from Nottingham, my rents are like to prove but scanty.”

“I will trust,” said the friar, “and thus let us ratify the stipulation; so shall our laws and your infringement run together in an amicable parallel.”

“But,” said Little John, “this is a bad precedent, master friar. It is turning discipline into profit, penalty into perquisite, public justice into private revenue. It is rank corruption, master friar.”

“Why are laws made?” said the friar. “For the profit of somebody. Of whom? Of him who makes them first, and of others as it may happen. Was not I legislator in the last article, and shall I not thrive by my own law?”

“Well then, sweet Mawd,” said the baron, “I must leave you, Mawd: your life is very well for the young and the hearty, but it squares not with my age or my humour. I must house, Mawd. I must find refuge: but where? That is the question.”

“Where Sir Guy of Gamwell has found it,” said Robin Hood, “near the borders of Barnsdale. There you may dwell in safety with him and fair Alice, till King Richard return, and Little John shall give you safe conduct. You will have need to travel with caution, in disguise and without attendants, for Prince John commands all this vicinity, and will doubtless lay the country for you and Marian. Now it is first expedient to dismiss your retainers. If there be any among them who like our life, they may stay with us in the greenwood; the rest may return to their homes.”

Some of the baron’s men resolved to remain with Robin and Marian, and were furnished accordingly with suits of green, of which Robin always kept good store.

Marian now declared that as there was danger in the way to Barnsdale, she would accompany Little John and the baron, as she should not be happy unless she herself saw her father placed in security. Robin was very unwilling to consent to this, and assured her that there was more danger for her than the baron: but Marian was absolute.

“If so, then,” said Robin, “I shall be your guide instead of Little John, and I shall leave him and Scarlet joint-regents of Sherwood during my absence, and the voice of Friar Tuck shall be decisive between them if they differ in nice questions of state policy.” Marian objected to this, that there was more danger for Robin than either herself or the baron: but Robin was absolute in his turn.

“Talk not of my voice,” said the friar; “for if Marian be a damsel errant, I will be her ghostly esquire.”

Robin insisted that this should not be, for number would only expose them to greater risk of detection. The friar, after some debate, reluctantly acquiesced.

While they were discussing these matters, they heard the distant sound of horses’ feet.

“Go,” said Robin to Little John, “and invite yonder horseman to dinner.”

Little John bounded away, and soon came before a young man, who was riding in a melancholy manner, with the bridle hanging loose on the horse’s neck, and his eyes drooping towards the ground.

“Whither go you?” said Little John.

“Whithersoever my horse pleases,” said the young man.

“And that shall be,” said Little John, “whither I please to lead him. I am commissioned to invite you to dine with my master.”

“Who is your master?” said the young man.

“Robin Hood,” said Little John.

“The bold outlaw?” said the stranger. “Neither he nor you should have made me turn an inch aside yesterday; but today I care not.”

“Then it is better for you,” said Little John, “that you came today than yesterday, if you love dining in a whole skin: for my master is the pink of courtesy: but if his guests prove stubborn, he bastes them and his venison together, while the friar says mass before meat.”

The young man made no answer, and scarcely seemed to hear what Little John was saying, who therefore took the horse’s bridle and led him to where Robin and his foresters were setting forth their dinner. Robin seated the young man next to Marian. Recovering a little from his stupor, he looked with much amazement at her, and the baron, and Robin, and the friar; listened to their conversation, and seemed much astonished to find himself in such holy and courtly company. Robin helped him largely to rumble-pie and cygnet and pheasant, and the other dainties of his table; and the friar pledged him in ale and wine, and exhorted him to make good cheer. But the young man drank little, ate less, spake nothing, and every now and then sighed heavily.

When the repast was ended, “Now,” said Robin, “you are at liberty to pursue your journey: but first be pleased to pay for your dinner.”

“That would I gladly do, Robin,” said the young man, “but all I have about me are five shillings and a ring. To the five shillings you shall be welcome, but for the ring I will fight while there is a drop of blood in my veins.”

“Gallantly spoken,” said Robin Hood. “A love-token, without doubt: but you must submit to our forest laws. Little John must search; and if he find no more than you say, not a penny will I touch; but if you have spoken false, the whole is forfeit to our fraternity.”

“And with reason,” said the friar; “for thereby is the truth maintained The abbot of Doubleflask swore there was no money in his valise, and Little John forthwith emptied it of four hundred pounds. Thus was the abbot’s perjury but of one minute’s duration; for though his speech was false in the utterance, yet was it no sooner uttered than it became true, and we should have been participes criminis to have suffered the holy abbot to depart in falsehood: whereas he came to us a false priest, and we sent him away a true man. Marry, we turned his cloak to further account, and thereby hangs a tale that may be either said or sung; for in truth I am minstrel here as well as chaplain; I pray for good success to our just and necessary warfare, and sing thanks-giving odes when our foresters bring in booty:

Bold Robin has robed him in ghostly attire, And forth he is gone like a holy friar,

Singing, hey down, ho down, down, derry down:

And of two grey friars he soon was aware,

Regaling themselves with dainty fare,

All on the fallen leaves so brown.

“Good morrow, good brothers,” said bold Robin Hood, “And what make you in the good greenwood,

Singing hey down, ho down, down, derry down!

Now give me, I pray you, wine and food;

For none can I find in the good greenwood,

All on the fallen leaves so brown.”

“Good brother,” they said, “we would give you full fain, But we have no more than enough for twain,

Singing, hey down, ho down, down, derry down.”

“Then give me some money,” said bold Robin Hood,

“For none can I find in the good greenwood,

All on the fallen leaves so brown.”

“No money have we, good brother,” said they: “Then,” said he, “we three for money will pray:

Singing, hey down, ho down, down, derry down:

And whatever shall come at the end of our prayer,

We three holy friars will piously share,

All on the fallen leaves so brown.”

“We will not pray with thee, good brother, God wot: For truly, good brother, thou pleasest us not,

Singing hey down, ho down, down, derry down:”

Then up they both started from Robin to run,

But down on their knees Robin pulled them each one,

All on the fallen leaves so brown.

The grey friars prayed with a doleful face, But bold Robin prayed with a right merry grace,

Singing, hey down, ho down, down, derry down:

And when they had prayed, their portmanteau he took,

And from it a hundred good angels he shook,

All on the fallen leaves so brown.

“The saints,” said bold Robin, “have hearkened our prayer, And here’s a good angel apiece for your share: If more you would have, you must win ere you wear:

Singing hey down, ho down, down, derry down:”

Then he blew his good horn with a musical cheer,

And fifty green bowmen came trooping full near,

And away the grey friars they bounded like deer,

All on the fallen leaves so brown.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24